For Sleepless Nights
My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud;My voice rises to God, and He will hear me. In the day of my trouble I [desperately] sought the Lord;In the night my hand was stretched out [in prayer] without weariness;My soul refused to be comforted. I remember God; then I am disquieted and I groan;I sigh [in prayer], and my spirit grows faint. Selah. You have held my eyelids open;I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I have considered the ancient days,The years [of prosperity] of long, long ago. I will remember my song in the night;I will meditate with my heart,And my spirit searches: Will the Lord reject forever?And will He never be favorable again? Has His lovingkindness ceased forever?Have His promises ended for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious?Or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion? Selah. And I said, “This is my grief,That the right hand of the Most High has changed [and His lovingkindness is withheld].” I will [solemnly] remember the deeds of the Lord;Yes, I will [wholeheartedly] remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate on all Your worksAnd thoughtfully consider all Your [great and wondrous] deeds. Your way, O God, is holy [far from sin and guilt].What god is great like our God? You are the [awesome] God who works [powerful] wonders;You have demonstrated Your power among the people. You have with Your [great] arm redeemed Your people,The sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah. The waters [of the Red Sea] saw You, O God;The waters saw You, they were in anguish;The deeps also trembled. The clouds poured down water;The skies sent out a sound [of rumbling thunder];Your arrows (lightning) flashed here and there. The voice of Your thunder was in the whirlwind;The lightnings illumined the world;The earth trembled and shook. Your way [of escape for Your people] was through the sea,And Your paths through the great waters,And Your footprints were not traceable. You led Your people like a flockBy the hand of Moses and Aaron [to the promised goal].
Recently I hosted out-of-town family members for a visit to a local attraction, Marvel Cave. Prior to the tour, our guide assembled the group for a photograph- the younger children standing in the front rows.
A darling five-year old girl began crying because she thought she had lost her parents, who were hidden in the upper row from her view.
I thought, “How like real life. I also panic when I feel alone and don’t sense my Heavenly Father near me.
In contrast to his mood in the 76th psalm, Asaph feels alone. In the 76th psalm, Asaph leaps ahead to the day when all conflict has faded and victory is at hand. In this psalm he stands in the present moment, the outcome of the battle still in doubt: “I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me.”
In these times it’s hard to have faith: “When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted.” This comes because you have momentarily lost hope in a brighter day. In the night, Asaph muses, groans and grows faint as he remembers God but remains without comfort as he wonders if God remembers him.
Verses 4-6 tell us that sleeplessness, a frequent companion to depression often takes us into remembrances of better times and the happy songs of yesterday. But those joy-filled memories butt up against the harshness of our present reality where life is hard and God has seemingly disappeared. Perhaps like the child at the cave in George Woods’s story, we have lost sight of the Father and feel, perhaps, that He also has lost sight of you.
Asaph includes a word in this psalm- Selah, which means “think about that!” And we do, over and over. We keep asking the same question over and over: When will this ever end. So is the key with God or with us?
In Psalm 77, Asaph says that the solution lies within us. By the time we get to verse 10 we find the mood changes as Asaph shifts from focusing on his own personal problems to the record of God’s activity on our behalf. The transition is revealed by the opening word “then.”
Before Asaph gets to “then” he remembers God and groans. After the “then” he remembers God’s past miracles of redemption and provision.
Before the “then” he focuses only about the former days with their haunting memories, but after the “then” he focuses on what God has done in earlier times.
We will continue to grow faint as long as we exclude the activity of God on our behalf from our meditations. It’s important that we turn from focusing on our own lives to recalling what the Lord has done for you.
It’s equally important to remember the right things. That’s what Asaph does and through an act of will, he orders his memory to reach back to the places of God’s miracles and His wondrous deeds.
If we choose to permit our memories to dwell exclusively on our hurts we will never find our way out. Sometimes our past experiences will tell us that we cannot trust anyone, even God. We open the door to faith when we begin thinking of what the Lord has done.
When we’re in the depths of depression it’s hard to keep our minds on the Lord because we are so focused on our pain. But if we will begin practicing the discipline of seeking the Lord’s presence-even if it’s just a short time each day- we will gradually increase the time spent reflecting on His realities, our history with Him, and His dealings with His people. In doing so these thoughts will become strong and long enough to form a meditation.
When we begin to think about the Lord, we come face-to-face with His character. As we ask the question, “Who is He?” we pick up the Bible for the answer and find that historically He hears the cry’s of His people. No one else possesses the power to rescue and redeem.
We ought not think that the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are more worthy of deliverance than we. Like them, we have no solutions for our dilemma and just as they did, all we can do is groan. But God hears and delivers.
In the record of the Old Testament book of Exodus, we discover God’s greatest deed, the high-water mark of His work for people. The divine deliverance from Egypt involved more that a reciting of history. For Asaph, it served as encouragement of what God is capable of doing in the present. The God of them is also the Lord of now and He can still make a dry path through our Red Seas.
Psalm 77 ends abruptly for nothing more needs to be said. To state, “You led” is to also state, “You lead.”
The Exodus of the New Testament is greater than the one of the Old, for Christ has led us out of bondage to sin, the devil, and death through His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. His life is now at work in us.
One day our tears will turn to smiles when we understand that our faithful Savior never lets us out of His sight. When we turn our eyes upon the Lord, away goes our despair.
Dr. John Thompson